Shorthanded Eagles fall behind early, lose to Newman in series finale

Robert Rosser went 3-for-4 for the Eagles in their loss Saturday to Newman.
Robert Rosser went 3-for-4 for the Eagles in their loss Saturday to Newman.

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 5, 2014) – Down two key hitters and a starting pitcher, the last thing Oklahoma Christian wanted to do Saturday afternoon was dig an early hole, but it happened for the second time in as many games to the Eagles.

OC quickly fell behind Newman (Kan.) by five runs and saw a valiant rally fall just short in a 6-4 loss to the Jets at Dobson Field in the decisive game of the teams’ Heartland Conference series.

OC (20-12, 13-8 Heartland), ranked No. 7 in NCAA Division II’s South Central Region, dropped a home conference series for the second time this season, having also lost two of three to St. Edward’s (Texas), and fell into fourth place in the league standings.

Newman (16-16, 9-9) is in fifth and is one of three teams battling for what figure to be two spots in the conference’s postseason tournament, for which OC is ineligible.

The Eagles played Saturday without two starters, outfielder Jordan Lopez and second baseman Cory Eastwood, and for the second straight week, they also were without one of their usual weekend starting pitchers, Kelby Reneau. Fortunately, all three should return from injury soon.

“We’ve just got to keep figuring out ways to win,” OC coach Lonny Cobble said. “We’re not playing real consistent right now. During a long season, you’re going to have ups and downs. We can’t get too high. We can’t get too low. We’re just trying to make sure the guys hang on and battle through this. It’s kind of like a hitting slump. You go through a slump as a team every now and then and it hurts.

“But we’re getting a lot of guys some experience and that’s helping a lot. I think that’s going to be our biggest thing. I know it doesn’t look like it right now, but I think those things are really going to help us at the end of the year.”

The Jets jumped on OC starter Tyler Sturges (2-2) for five runs in 2 2/3 innings. A two-run single by Jarrod Flax keyed a three-run second inning for Newman and Sturges hit three batters during the third inning as the Jets scored twice more on just one basehit.

OC pulled within 5-3 in the sixth. Robert Rosser, who went 3-for-4, led off with a double and after Blake Stringer reached on an error, Caden Cleveland delivered a two-run triple to right-center field. Cleveland later scored on a single to left field by Caleb Price.

The Eagles picked up another run in the seventh, as Rosser’s single to center scored Markus Carr, who had walked and stole second base. But Newman reliever Brandon Roberts entered the game and retired all eight OC batters he faced to record his first save of the baseball season.

Newman starter Zak Mickens (5-3) allowed nine hits and three runs (two earned) in six innings to pick up the pitching win.

“Last night and today, we put ourselves (in a big hole) and sometimes battling out of that is just not going to happen,” Cobble said. ”I was proud of the way the guys battled late, but it was a little bit too late. We’ve just got to have guys stepping up early. … But we’ll get it fixed. That’s something, at least, we can fix.”

OC will return to action on Tuesday, hosting longtime NAIA rival Oklahoma City University, before hosting a nonconference series next Friday and Saturday against Ecclesia (Ark.).